WHAT began with a souvenir from a day trip to Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1980 has spiralled into an obsession that could soon land Gladys Minter a world record.
It was then the now 82-year-old visited the Staffordshire town and bought a single thimble for £6.25 bearing her star sign, Aquarius.
Fast-forward 39 years – and 26,961-and-a-half thimbles now fill her one-bedroom flat in Leigh Park. She counts the half because one is broken.
The retired Portsmouth dockyard worker today takes her collection public as friends urge her to try and score a world record with it.
Guinness’ benchmark for the largest collection of thimbles is currently 8,003, set by Robert Harper of Ontario, Canada, in 2013.
‘I suppose it would be quite a laugh to have a world record,’ said Gladys, who is known as Rusty by friends because of her red hair.
‘I’ve never been after any kudos for myself with my thimbles – I just collect them because I love to see them.
‘Looking at them for the first time is such a thrill because it’s lovely to see things you never even thought could go on a thimble.’
Gladys’ haul features thimbles made of wood, rubber, pewter, leather and yarn, with countless sets depicting different items and events.
Among these, one is decorated with penny farthing coins, another commemorates the Falklands War and one is topped with a mini greenhouse.
So far she has organised 13,575 of the thimbles alphabetically and has even defended parts of her collection from a spat after her 2006 divorce.
Since then it has grown by the thousand thanks to finds at car boot sales, charity shops and auctions.
‘I think people would think I’m crazy if they saw it all but I don't care,’ she said.
‘It looks like absolute chaos, but to me it’s organised chaos.
‘I'd love to collect more but the thing stopping me is the fact I’ve not got room.'
She added: ‘I’d like to find someone who can help me set up a little museum where my thimbles and other things people have collected can go.
‘It’s amazing what people collect and I want to give something back to Leigh Park.’